Museum Studies Students Research, Play, and Make it Work
This year, eight museum studies students worked together to curate Michael Dela Dika’s solo exhibition debut, Shaping Rhapsody. Dika, a visiting artist-in-residence at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture, where he teaches classes in ceramics and sculpture, has been preparing the exhibition for about five months.
The project started with a simple notion.
“I was pretty much just finding a way to be playful,” said Dika. As a child, the budding artist would take long wandering walks around his home in Ghana, where he would earn a bachelor’s degree in industrial art at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. More recently, he has traveled across the continental U.S. on fellowships and research grants, while concurrently obtaining a master’s degree at the University of Delaware in 2022. A serious thinker and sensitive sculptor, his artist statement reads, “Inspired by the experiences of Ghanaian markets, my works explore the interplay between tension and balance while emphasizing human fragility, vulnerability and exhaustion.”
He found the best way to communicate the feeling of play was to have multiples of each piece of art he created, so viewers can witness the impulses that shape each sculpture. “It also highlights the essential need of everyday life: how we improvise and how we try to make things work in different ways,” he said.
During the fall semester, museum studies minors Molly Blume ’23, Story Coleman ’24, Bella Dolan ’25, Allie Fiore ’24, Mairead McDermott ’24, Maia Peele ’23, Craig Schrager ’23, and Juls Valerio ’24 worked with Dika on an exhibition featuring six sculptures comprised of over 270 individual pieces during a course led by museum studies coordinator and Berman Museum Creative Director Deborah Barkun. This class, the Curatorial Practices Seminar, is the capstone experience for the interdisciplinary museum studies minor. The eight students learned the principles of curation while researching Dika’s work and even conducting a visit with the artist in his Philadelphia studio.
Before students returned to campus for the spring semester, these aspiring curators discovered their preparation could only take them so far, so, much like the artist Dika, they had to improvise.
The result was an exhibition of mixed-media assemblages that convey a sense of spontaneity arising from an experimental approach to media, process, and color.
Valerio’s favorite piece was possibly the curators’ biggest challenge. The students were tasked with turning multiple ceramic and metal sculptural components into a site-specific installation entitled Field Formations.
Instead of mounting them directly to the wall, the team of students suspended each piece from the ceiling with shark line at calculated distances from the wall and ceiling. As a result, the figures appear to make an ascent along the room before some pieces stand on the wall’s ledge under the ceiling.
“I think the thing I liked the most about this is how it brought all of us together,” Valerio said, “but also how we’re all able to have a different perception of [Dika’s work] and have the ability to be so close with it at the same time.”
Fiore’s favorite piece is Shaping Blue, a sculptural installation of blue ceramic that resembles turbulent waves. They were the first pieces that she and Blume studied to write condition reports. “That [first] moment of touching and looking at them… I didn’t expect how intimate that would be,” said Fiore.
For the entire exhibition, the team decided on a warm palette, which started with the color terracotta, an earth tone meeting between orange and brown. The curators’ thesis that emerged during the process was, “community,” something that also tied to Dika’s answer to one of the four Ursinus questions, “How should we live together?”: Think deeply, be playful, and make it work.